There is an inherent desire within the human heart to worship, to reverence, to adore, and to serve a Supreme Being. The heathen prostrates himself upon the ground before his god of mud, wood, or stone. It is an act of worship, and usually comes from a sincere heart. He may even offer himself for bodily mutilation or cause his children to suffer in order to appease his god, and by such acts show his willingness to bend his will to a higher being.
His acts of worship, his feeling of dependence upon his god, may well cause us to wonder: Are we Christians, worshipers of the eternal Creator, the true God, as careful, as reverent, as filled with awe and adoration in our worship as we should be? I wonder!
Has education and our high standard of living caused us to trust too much in our own ability and too little in our eternal God? Do we really worship Him as we ought! Do we show the proper reverence and respect? Do we tread softly in His sanctuary? Do we as elders and pastors set the right example and so conduct ourselves that those who look to us for guidance are led to realize the majesty and glory of the God whom they serve, as well as His love and tenderness?
Let us consider the work of the elder as a leader of worship.
We serve the God of heaven not because we are afraid of Him but because He is a God of love. Fear must never be our motive. We know that His thoughts toward us are thoughts of good and not of evil; therefore our worship must be sincere and genuine, as well as reverent and respectful.
J.H. lowett, in his book The Preacher, His Life and Work, says: "It is our God-appointed office to lead men and women who are weary and wayward, exultant or depressed, eager or indifferent, into 'the secret place of the Most High.' We are to help the sinful to the fountain of cleansing, the bondslaves to the wonderful songs of deliverance. We are to help the halt and the lame to recover their lost nimbleness. We are to help the broken-winged into the healing light of 'the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.' We are to help the buoyant to clothe themselves with 'the garment of praise.' We are to help to redeem the strong from the atheism of pride, and the weak from the atheism of despair. We are to help little children to see the glorious attractiveness of God, and we are to help the aged realize the encompassing care of the Father and the assurance of the eternal home. This is something of what our calling means when we enter the pulpit of the sanctuary."
The elder as leader of worship is God's person. You have been chosen and set apart for God's business. You speak for God. You are to lead His flock like a shepherd. Therefore your manner of worship has a direct bearing upon the people whom you minister to. They are definitely affected by it. Your attitude and manner will be reflected by your people. Upon the elder rests the burden of worship. You should accept this responsibility knowing that God as well as man expects you to be faithful in leading his flock.
The Worship Service
As the Sabbath school is the church at study, so the church service is the church at worship. Preaching is only part of the worship service. Too often only the preaching seems to be considered important. Many times the service becomes merely an hour of entertainment or promotion, with occasionally one of instruction in doctrine thrown in.
The whole period should be one of worship, with the pastor or elder as the leader. And everything done in the service should be done under the direction of the leader.
It is your duty to guard against any appearance of looseness, shoddiness, or carelessness, and with every act help the congregation realize that they are in the presence of the Almighty. Order and system should prevail, for the God we worship is a God of order; beauty and cleanliness are His delight. Encourage quietness. By precept and example lead the people into the spirit of reverence.
Whenever possible, provide parents with a place where they can take their little ones. However, the pastor and elder must be sympathetic and understanding. Recognize that the sister who has risen early, fed and dressed her children, and brought them dutifully to Sabbath school and church, is one who struggles perhaps against overwhelming odds with a crying baby and wiggly children. It is not easy to train little folks to sit quietly and listen to much that they do not understand.
The real problem may not be with the children; it may well be with the worship leader. If children are to worship, they must be helped to understand. We must never display impatience or any attitude that would cause a member to be hurt. Thank God for the mothers in our congregations who struggle to bring their little families to the house of worship. Let us be sympathetic and helpful.
See to it that the choir maintains a worshipful attitude throughout the service. It would be far better to have no choir at all than to have one whose members by their dress and attitude before the congregation distract the people and cause them to lose the spirit of reverence.
There are no preliminaries in worship. The offering, hymns, prayer, special music, preaching, benediction─all are definite acts of worship and should be considered as such. Even the announcements can be made in a spirit of worship.
The pastor or elder should guide the service and not let it drift. Know where you are going, how long it takes to get there, and when you will arrive. Start on time and plan definitely to stop on time, but not allow the desire to do so to cause anyone to lose the spirit of worship.
When those who lead the service take their places upon the rostrum, everyone should know their part and speak clearly. Every act and word must carry dignity. There should be no lounging, whispering, or shifting carelessly about. Show an active interest in every part of the service.
Some time ago, while attending a meeting in one of our churches, I was privileged to occupy the platform with several other ministers. During the singing of a very inspiring and helpful solo two of the ministers carried on a conversation that was so noticeable that it attracted considerable attention. When at the close of the solo they both said a loud "Amen!" it brought smiles to the faces of many. The minister's and elder's own quietness and attention to everything that is taking place is of the greatest importance. Nothing they say or do should detract from the service in any way.
There ought not to be any show of pride or vanity in the leaders, but rather humility, remembering that God's people are in the act of worship. Self should be so effaced that the people can see past the pastor and elder to their God.
Now let us consider each part of the worship service.
Announcements of the various interests and activities of the church are important. Deal with them with dignity and clarity, so that no one will be left questioning. Do not cheapen the act by needless repetition. Do not spend time that could be used better elsewhere. Where possible, publish all announcements in the bulletin and do not read them at the service. Once the congregation learns where to look for announcements they will find them. Our Father's business is important and may well find a place in our worship.
In the selection of hymns use only such as denote worship. Avoid hymns that are languid, dreamy, or hollow. Give no cause for thoughts other than those of reverent worship. Make the singing a definite act of worship and adoration, and instruct the music leader and pianist or organist in the importance of this attitude of reverence.
In relation to special music it would be good to remember the instruction of the Church Manual: "Choir leaders should work in close collaboration with the minister or church elder in order that the special musical selections harmonize with the theme of the sermon. The choir leader is under the direction of the pastor or elders of the church, and does not work independently of them. The choir leader should counsel with them, not only as to the music to be rendered, but also concerning the selection of singers and musicians."
Maybe it is time for elders to act more clearly in helping to define a proper use of music in the worship service.
When we bring our offerings, our sacrifices, and lay them at our Saviour's feet, this is not a business matter. It is our desire to return respectfully and humbly that which belongs to God and that which we wish to give Him freely because of our love and appreciation for His goodness. There ought to be no vestige of crudeness or force, nor should the minds of the hearers be caused to think other than of God's goodness, the need of His cause and their own ability to give. Fortunate is the person who is able to keep the people thinking of heaven while they empty their pocketbooks for God's work on earth. Bringing our offerings to God is worship of the highest order.
The Scripture reading is an opportunity for God to speak to His people. It should be well prepared, and the one who reads it should know where to place emphasis. Do not hurry, but rather make the lesson a part of the sermon and magnify it not by comment but by the confidence with which it is read.
The worship-hour prayer, of all prayers, must be deeply respectful. It is then that the pastor or elder leads the congregation on bent knee to the throne of grace. As they bow before their Maker, they must be conscious that the one praying is speaking for them. Every sentence should be well chosen and spoken with due reverence. Studiously avoid carelessness or undue repetition. Speak for the people out of an understanding of their needs. It is a tremendous responsibility to voice the heartfelt needs of all, and for this there must be a most thorough preparation. The one who leads in prayer must be so well acquainted with God in private that the public prayer will be the natural outflowing of a God-touched heart. Prepare the words; don't say just anything. Be definite and orderly. Make the requests known to God in a spirit of true worship and reverence.
The sermon is your opportunity to speak for God. You are God's mouth-piece. Remember always that it is "not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the Lord of hosts." Whatever the burden of the message to be presented, recognize and preach for a verdict and ask for action, praying that you so surrendered yourself that the Spirit of God can speak through you. The sermon should always be a serious business, having the saving of souls as its objective. This is not a promotion hour except as soul winning is promoted. Do not cheapen it in any way. Do not show self or pride; be humble.
"We are not in the pulpit to please or inform the mind, or to disturb or sway the emotions, but to move the will, to set it in another course, to increase its pace and to make it sing in the way of God's commandments. To bring the wills of men into tune with the will of God" (The Preacher, His Life and Work, p. 172).
Restrict the sermon to a reasonable length. Thirty to forty minutes is usually ample time. This is the climax of the act of worship. Happy is the person who is able to lead the people to the water of life and cause them to drink, whose heart is so full of worship and love for God that they can inspire the people and bring them into a closer fellowship with their Saviour.
Remember at all times that this part of the service is for young and old, that the little ones love to worship and serve God too. Therefore the thoughts and words must be made to reach into the hearts of all, regardless of age, and cause them to rejoice that they belong to God.
The benediction is important. It must be an expression of sincere thanks for the privilege of worship. Be brief and reverent. Send the people home feeling that they came to God's house and have been fed and blessed.
Do not hurry from the platform. Walk with dignity and decorum, and help the congregation to realize that they are now leaving the house of the Eternal One and, having communed with Him, they are now to be living witnesses for Him.
Be friendly and courteous to all as they leave. Shake their hands; tell them how glad you are to see them. Let them feel that you love them and that you are happy to be their elder. And don't forget the little ones.
Blessed is the elder to whom a brother or sister says as he leaves the sanctuary, "Elder, you were talking to me this morning"; and the little child says, "I liked your sermon. It was good." Such words are an evidence that the message went home to old and young. It is better still if they quietly grip your hand with thoughts too deep for words. When people have really worshiped God, their words will be few as they leave His sanctuary.
Pastor W. E. Strickland was president of KentuckyTennessee Conference when this article was written.